Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Burlington City Council moves on gun regulations

The next public hearing are at noon on Friday, January 17 and then 7 PM on Monday, January 27.
The meeting last night was not a public hearing, the city council had no scheduled public comment
session dedicated to the proposed gun control ordinances.
Burlington City Council moves on gun regulations

Two approved, one sent back for fine tuning

Nov. 18, 2013     

Burlington City Councilor Tom Ayres, D-Ward 7, listens to public comment during Monday night's city council meeting at Contois Auditorium. / EMILY McMANAMY/FREE PRESS
Written by, April Burbank , Free Press Staff Writer

The Burlington City Council was expected to approve final ballot language for three proposed regulations on guns Monday but encountered some legal questions along the way.
The Council ultimately approved two of the resolutions — a safe firearm storage requirement and a ban on guns in establishments with liquor licenses — with amendments. Council members sent a third resolution, which would allow police seizure of guns in cases of suspected domestic abuse, back to the committee level for more fine-tuning.
Opponents of the proposed regulations argued in a public comment period, as they had at previous meetings, that the city lacks authority to enact the changes under state law. The issue came up on Monday as City Attorney Eileen Blackwood answered councilors' questions.
"It requires a change in state law for there to be any regulation, so that's the reason why we're going through these steps," Blackwood said. "Then, when it goes to the Legislature, the Legislature has the authority to change whatever the voters of Burlington have voted and can add or subtract things."
Each resolution would ask for permission from the state that "expressly supersedes" a law that prohibits municipalities from regulating the possession of firearms.
The City Council had approved the three proposed charter changes at a highly-attended Oct. 21 meeting; since then, the Charter Change Committee had been working through the exact language of the resolutions with a goal of preparing them for public hearings in January and a public vote in March.
City Council President Joan Shannon, D-Ward 5, first suggested moving on the three regulations as a "slate" on Monday; the Council opted instead to consider them one-by-one.
The City Council adopted amendments that would allow the city to have leeway in determining penalties for violations of the proposed laws, which could include civil and criminal penalties as well as forfeiture of weapons involved in a violation.
The City Council approved the amended ballot language for the ban on guns in bars with a 12-1 vote; Councilor Paul Decelles, R-Ward 7, opposed. The Council approved ballot language for the safe storage requirement with an 11-2 vote; Decelles and Councilor David Hartnett, D-Ward 4, opposed.
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Public hearings on the two provisions have been scheduled for noon on Jan. 17 and 7 p.m. on Jan. 27 in Contois Auditorium.
The City Council voted unanimously to send the domestic violence provision back to the Charter Change Committee after some confusion over what a "violation" of the requirement would actually mean.
The vote was taken with an expectation of receiving a resolution back at the Council's Dec. 16 meeting, the last scheduled meeting that would allow the Council to move forward in time for a public vote in March.
Burlington gun collector Ian Galbraith told the City Council before the votes that gun-rights advocates would speak out against the proposals in Montpelier.
"We're all over the place, and there's a lot of us," said Galbraith, wearing a hunter-orange cap. "Thank you, and thank you for the process."

Also at Monday's meeting:

• The City Council considered an ordinance prohibiting people from leaving their pets unattended in vehicles, which would support a state statute and allow police or other responders to use "reasonable force" to remove an animal from a vehicle and bring the animal to a humane society, veterinarian or pound. The Council voted unanimously to refer the ordinance to the Ordinance Committee.
• City Councilors allowed a cut in their own expense reimbursement account limits — lowering the cap from $5,000 to $3,000 per councilor for the current fiscal year — as they approved a plan to reduce the fiscal 2014 budget by nearly a half million dollars. The proposal, put forward by Chief Administrative Officer Bob Rusten, also calls for the city to find cost savings or increased revenue in its health insurance plan, parking fees and miscellaneous expenses.
• In a work session before the full City Council meeting, Rusten presented Council members with an overview of the city's self-funded health insurance system, which has required increased city contributions in the past several years. Rusten asked the City Council to provide guidance about investigating possible changes to the health insurance system.
• Burlington organizations received the go-ahead to launch a citywide parking initiative with the goal of educating the public, assessing the city's infrastructure, experimenting with new parking-related pilot projects and crafting a comprehensive downtown parking management plan by March 2015. The Burlington Business Association, the Community and Economic Development Office, the Department of Public Works, the Burlington Police Department and the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission are among the groups participating in the initiative.